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  • Jennifer van Lent

Have More Productive Meetings - Without Actually Meeting: Part 1

Are you one of the millions of Zoom users who experienced platform issues yesterday? You may have noticed lots of snarky blogs and posts dripping with schadenfreude in your social media feed. But consider for a minute that Zoom meeting (or meetings) you missed during the outage….what did you really miss? Could you have accomplished the same - or more - without actually meeting? And when you do meet as a team - in a physical location, in virtual meeting rooms, or a hybrid of the both – are your meetings really as effective as they could be?


A deeper question when considering the wide-spread transition from in-person/physical meetings to virtual ones: have we just substituted one set of problems for another? Consider past experiences (and btw - don’t these issues sound quaint in today's world?):

  • How many times did you try to book a meeting room, only to find all conference rooms booked?

  • Remember distance issues with back-to-back meetings - running from one side of campus to another (for me, in heels), waiting endlessly for elevators – arriving at the meeting room sweaty and out of breath?

  • Or getting kicked out of your meeting room by the next participants when your group was running over time and before you had finished discussing the agenda topics…..and then continuing the meeting discussion in the corridor?

….and compare them to logistic issues with today’s virtual meetings:

  • Network issues: Isn’t it often the case that at least one person in each virtual meeting always has a bad WIFI connection?

  • Logistics: The new cross-campus dash is back-to-back meetings on different platforms with no time for switching applications (including passwords which don't autofill, hoping the conference app doesn't need to restart).

  • Conference platform problems: I lost count of the number of times I have switched from one platform to another – from Teams to Zoom to Hangouts to Skype and back again – when I couldn't complete a meeting because of platform issues.

  • User issues: Multiple participants speaking at once, futile attempts to join the discussion before the agenda moves to another topic, noise in the background (baby crying, toilet flushing), failing to mute or unmute (among many other fails which are now part of our virtual meeting lexicon)

AS we moved from physical to virtual meeting environments, the solutions for solving problems with meetings have been procedural – focused on technical or logistical solutions. Most of the “solutions” haven’t addressed the CORE fundamentals of a “good” meeting – one which is effective, purpose-driven, actionable and, in fact, useful to participants and stakeholders.


How would you rank your meetings in terms of analyzing factors which can impact efficiency, productivity and successful outcomes? Do a quick exercise: look into your calendar and make a list of your last 10 meetings (don’t cherry pick!). Analyze each meeting using the following factors, ranking each of the seven factors on a scale from 1-10 (where 1 = lowest):

  1. Importance of meeting & agenda topics: What was the stated purpose of the meeting? How critical was the meeting (in terms of topics discussed, decisions to be made, potential impact)

  2. Decisions: Were there key decisions to make in the meeting? Were the decision-makers present in the meeting?

  3. Role: Did everyone in the meeting have a defined role? Did everyone need to participate in the actual discussion? Or were some participants “listening in” with no defined role?

  4. Preparation: How thorough was individuals’ pre-meeting preparation? Was background information and research required prior to the meeting?

  5. Agenda & Time: Were there too many or too few items on the agenda, was the time spent per agenda adequate?

  6. Discussion: How high was the quality of discussion within the meeting? Did you notice an imbalance in the amount of productive meeting time vs unproductive discussions?

  7. Actionable outcomes: Did each participant receive a post-meeting summary of meeting minutes with actionable outcomes for him/her? Have the owners of actions met the timelines? Is there a goal, objective or expected outcome for the entire group to achieve, and has it been met or is it on track to reach?

Review your overall score for each individual meeting as well as group all of them collectively so you can calculate the total score of all 10 meetings. Overall, are your meetings averaging a rank of 45 or lower? Do you see a pattern where individual meetings frequently have a lower score (6 or less) for specific factors but higher in other areas? This quick "acid test" can help you gauge if and where you can find improvement.


For the future, all indicators point to a “new normal” in the workplace where employees will spend at least some of their days in virtual / WFH office environments. And almost everyone has experienced some form of meeting fatigue – for various reasons - during the previous months as we navigate the new situation. (Regarding this last point, be honest: didn’t you attend at least one meeting in the past 5 months where it seemed like the only agenda was for a manager to check if everyone in the team was really working?)


So, what to do? Like many business challenges, creating a culture which facilitates effective meetings can be found by aligning people (for example, by encouraging motivation or distributing ownership) and processes, plus leveraging technology in a smart way. And “leveraging technology” doesn’t simply mean using the functionality of whatever conference platform you are currently using. With organizations relying so heavily on meetings in a virtual environment, it’s time to invest time and energy into reviewing the underlying purpose, structure and process. Which is the discussion of our next blog.


About the Playbook Toolkit team: We provide our clients with hands-on tools, proven techniques, and easy to follow, practical steps to help create and execute winning strategies, transform business processes and leverage value-driven technology. Our team has brought innovative approaches and best-practice solutions to countless organizations around the globe which have helped improve how they work and play. Interested in learning more about our approach to drive change, or do you have a specific challenge or opportunity with your day-to-day business? Let's get in touch.

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